Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen says he has no regrets about his move to Spain last summer, and always intended to return to the Premiership at some point. Last week Owen released a statement confirming his agents had held brief talks with "three or four" Premiership clubs about a return to the English top-flight this summer. The striker would ideally like to return to Anfield and Liverpool are very interested in this possibility, as long as the deal is right for the club. Owen spoke about his situation in his column in The Times.
Owen says that the signing of Júlio Baptista triggered the permission from Real for talks with English clubs. He said: "The move for Robinho had been spoken about for several months, although the arrival of Júlio Baptista was unexpected. Indeed, it was his signing that put in motion the chain of events reported by the media last week."
Owen says Real have assured him he’s still wanted at the club. He says, "Real Madrid made the point that the arrival of Robinho and Baptista made no difference to me — they wanted me to stay." The number of strikers at the club means Owen’s appearances will be limited, and he is concerned about his position with England: "They do have five strikers at the club and it is obvious that not everyone can play in every game. Knowing the importance of World Cup finals year, they said that if there was a possible transfer that suited everyone, I had their permission to explore it, but there was no pressure to make any decision that did not suit me. This information was conveyed to a small group of clubs and we have until August 31 to see if anything happens."
The small minority of Liverpool fans that disliked Owen during his Liverpool days did so mainly because he was perceived to be more of an England player than a Liverpool player. This criticism was unfair, Owen was proud to be a Red and even prouder to be a Red representing his country. With the hype surrounding the English national team in the English national press, Owen was asked more questions about England than Liverpool. Every time Owen took a knock in a game, commentators would point out that Sven-Göran Eriksson would be worried. This was irritating, but OWen wasn’t asking the questions or making the comments. As Xabi Alonso develops into the world’s best midfielder, there’s no doubt that the Spanish press will be filled with stories about Xabi and the Spanish national team. Peter Crouch and Jamie Carragher could be in the same position this time next year if their season ends with big performances for England in trhe World Cup.
Owen is for now assuming he’ll be playing in Spain this season. He says: "Mentally, I am preparing for another season with Real and if I do find myself on the bench at the start of the season, I will do everything possible to force my way into the starting XI". The striker goes on: "I know I will be given a fair chance to do this. This is one challenge I am determined to win."
Owen says he has already benefitted from his time in Madrid: "Regardless of what happens this summer, I would like to return to the Premiership one day. Already I feel that my time abroad has matured me and I believe that when I do return, it will be as a better player."
Owen talks about England and the World Cup, and about the England boss. He says: "Sven-Göran Eriksson will prepare us superbly for the tournament — his attention to detail is meticulous. I read last week that he tried to buy me a few years ago when he was the coach at Lazio. I heard a rumour at the time that something was going on, but I never did hear anything official."
When Owen says, "official", of course he means directly from Liverpool. His agents will have made sure he was aware of the interest. The fact he chose to ignore the chance of the move shows he was happy at Anfield at the time. Owen knows his future will be decided by the end of the month. Last year his future was uncertain almost until the close of the transfer window, and it may be the case this year too. OWen says he has no regrets about making the choice he did, even though Real won nothing and Liverpool won the biggest prize available to them: "I was delighted for Liverpool — especially for the fans and my many friends there. But if I had to make the decision again, I would still have chosen Real. It is an experience that has developed me as a player and as a person. I have enjoyed learning from new training regimes and watching some of the world’s best players at close quarters."
The English press have enjoyed knocking Owen during his time with Real, but Owen liked to point out that he had actually done pretty well, considering the circumstances. He says, "I’ve had my challenges along the way — yet with three different coaches, I started on the bench and eventually ended up in the team, so I must have been doing something right. Statistically, last season was successful — 16 goals in 26 starts. I’m told that it worked out as a goal every 146 minutes with 35 per cent of my scoring chances ending in the net."
Owen says he remained professional last season, despite disappointment and frustration at times: "I would like to have started more games, although I tried hard never to show my true feelings because, in the modern game, you have to understand the importance of a strong squad."
As a last note, Owen makes a point that he will fight to win, wherever he is: "I am in Austria enjoying a punishing pre-season fitness programme during which I will want to win every exercise, five-a-side or sprint."